Children's health 'put at risk' by academy food standards opt out

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A leading doctor has warned that academies and free schools that opt out of meeting food guidelines could damage pupils' health.

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Professor Stephenson warns that academies and free schools that don't adhere to nutritional guidelines are putting children at risk

Professor Terence Stephenson, chair of the Academy of Medical Royal Colleges (AoMRC), said that two million children who attend academies and free schools are at risk of exposure to unhealthy meals as a result of the Government’s ‘irresponsible’ policy, which is undermining the fight against childhood obesity.

He accused academies and free schools, which do not have to comply with the same food standards for pupils’ lunches as maintained schools, of setting a bad example for children.

His warning, in an interview with The Observer comes as the School Food Plan, commissoned by the Government, launches its ‘What Works’ website today, designed to help schools to come together to share practical ideas and experiences about delivering healthy meals to pupils.

From September, all schools will have to provide universal free meals for children in Reception, Year 1 and Year 2.

Responding to Professor Stephenson's comments, a Department for Education spokesperson said, ‘There is no evidence whatsoever that academies and free schools serve less healthy food than council-run schools. It is utterly disingenuous and untrue to claim the academies programme is harming children's health.

‘A survey by the Children's Food Trust found 99 per cent of academies have voluntarily agreed to follow the food standards, even though they are not required to do so. By contrast many council-run schools, unlike the best academies, are failing to provide healthy options, instead continuing to serve fried food, fizzy drinks and pizza.

‘Instead of pretending there is a problem with a particular type of school, we should concentrate on improving food in all schools.’

Professor Stephenson’s comments follow demands from Jamie Oliver last week for urgent action to stop fast food takeaways opening up within ‘spitting distance’ of some schools.

The celebrity chef, whose national campaign in 2005 to encourage schools to stop serving unhealthy meals led to the setting up of the School Food Trust, challenged all political parties to put preventing childhood obesity at the heart of the campaigns in the run-up to the General Election.